In addition to camera-hogging "characters" with no chance to win, another Survivor staple of recent seasons has been substantial changes in the structure of the game (repeat locations, Redemption Island, etc.) which the people in charge (Probst, Burnett, CBS) insist are being done in the name of "trying something new" or "keeping the show fresh," but instead are almost certainly being done to cut budgetary corners. To this, uh... (what's the opposite of pantheon? We're gonna go with) "nickelback" of changes, we now add: DIY challenges. But not for the reasons you might think.
We are awarding DIY challenges (thus far: bocce in Samoa, plus ropes-in-a-box and this week's RC from this season) this week's Trolly mainly because they're just pale imitations of actual challenges. Because they're required to be at some unspecified location near camp, and have to be deliverable by treemail, they necessarily are tiny in scope. They lack the "epic build" feel of actual (pre-Samoa, anyway) challenges. There's no helicopter flyover, since it's just 10+ people huddled around a chalkboard and a few sticks lashed together. There's no anticipatory, game-face-on march into a clearing where the challenge apparatus awaits. There's no Dream Team walk-through! (How can you have a challenge explainer without a Dream Team walkthrough?) They're just... there. Yes, that's right: DIY challenges are even less impressive than the crappy duels in the original Redemption Island season.
And it's not the absence of Jeff Probst, really. As much as he seems convinced of the brilliance of his play-by-play commentary, it wasn't even in the early seasons, yet they still managed to have memorable challenges. Yes, his presence does add weight, but a crappy challenge is still a crappy challenge, Probst or no Probst. And yet, given past history (Redemption Island), we're probably doomed to more of the same for several more seasons, despite popular dissatisfaction. So to DIY challenges--this attention-seeking bore, this gift that keeps on not giving--we present this week's Trolly. Still doesn't make you worth watching, but we've done all we can.
This was not a good week for balanced storytelling: it was essentially the Jay, Kim and Troyzan (and to a lesser extent, Chelsea) show from start to finish, with even the go-to drama-/comic relief creators like Tarzan, Alicia and Kat being used solely as sounding boards for monologues by the Big Three. Still, we'd prefer to focus instead on a more pressing concern: What's happened to Alicia?
Just three episodes ago, she had ramped up her Troll-esque antisocial game to become Colton's right-hand Manono Mean Girl. Or at least she had, until Colton's appendicitis/ bacterial infection started getting treated. Ever since then, she's been essentially unheard from. We can only conclude that giving Colton antibiotics did something terrible to Alicia's antics. For which the obvious remedy (eight months after the fact) is: stop giving Colton antibiotics! Perhaps even re-infect him! If he's as big a fan as he claims, he'll take a hit or two for the enrichment of the show, right? Come on, Colton. It's only fair.
We thought we'd made the last word in congratulating Tarzan on his well-played perceived lack of challenge prowess last week, but he vastly surpassed those meager plaudits by far this week. In appearing to shatter Crystal's Gabon-set record for shortest time in an endurance challenge, Tarzan leapt (heh, Tarzan jumping) to possibly the front of the pack in the textbook entry for how to get yourself dragged to the end. Although he could have used a bit more general cantankerousness. [Note: In contrast, his helping his team to the win in the RC was quite inadvisable, but upon review, it was probably just bad luck, and besides, it's a DIY challenge, nobody cares.]
But perhaps what was even more impressive was Tarzan's subtle strategic play: He voted with Kim to boot Jay (!). Doing as you're told, even at the risk of angering your original alliance, is always great goatplay. Sure, it may have cost him potential jury votes, but let's be honest: those were fairly unlikely to begin with. While we still find Tarzan's disappearing mustache vaguely disturbing, we nonetheless salute his mastery of challenge failure. Well done, sir. This Sitty is for you.
Let us be perfectly clear: Kim (easily!) won the Slitty again this week, exactly as we predicted last week. But rather than re-toast just how impressively she's playing circles around the rest of the cast, let's instead lift up a cup of whine: Why are the men on this season so unrelentingly awful at playing Survivor?
It started early, with preening Matt essentially asking his tribe to call him by his nickname, "First Boot." Then the spectacularly awful decision to give up an already-won tribal immunity, just because Colton felt like it at that split second. Then the interminable focus on Colton's mission to make Russell Hantz seem like a player with a winning social game. And now the post-merge, where we've had two straight weeks where the few, the rare, the guys who've shown occasional flashes of coherent gameplay (Michael and Jay) mystifyingly decide to stop playing and just hope for the best that Kim and Chelsea aren't lying to them about an alliance. This does not even begin to address the absolute absence of detectable gameplay by Leif (apart from his admirable challenge exuberance).
We've said it a hundred times now, but would it kill Survivor casting to put people with even basic strategic awareness on the show? True, Tarzan is starting to play a reasonably impressive 2nd-/3rd-place goat game, and Troyzan is at least trying to win, mostly. But it does no good to saddle the one guy who's trying to win with an initial tribe of eight other guys who really aren't, especially in this current era of inflexible Day 1 alliances of five. As refreshing as it is that Kim is getting edited as a likeable female strategic mastermind, the show could still be better, if only casting had allowed her to have some plausible competition. It can't be that difficult, can it?
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Jay Byars